Public Access

by George Browne
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association September 2020 Newsletter)

I remember seeing a sign years ago on a bulletin board that said, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” That message came back to me, recently, as I was speaking with an attorney for a Raritan Bayshore community about public access and fishing in that town. The lawyer was telling me that fishing access was restricted because of all the things fishermen did at the public beach and why the town felt it necessary to prohibit fishing. It seems that some of our fellow anglers were drinking, loud late at night, obnoxious to the locals, trashing the area, and urinating and defecating in the parking lot and on the beach. The nearby property owners complained and felt the solution was to prohibit fishing. The town agreed. This is a common theme I hear when I approach town officials to improve fishing access. It is an inaccurate picture of us, but one many local residents believe. As anglers we are visible when and where we fish, and others know we are fishing. After we leave, we get blamed for the trash and other problems in the “fishing” area. I went on to explain to the town attorney, that as anglers we respect the environment, most clean up after ourselves, and many take other people’s trash out with them, but we get the blame for the problems because we are easy to identify.

Now, we also know that there are some anglers among us that do cause all kinds of problems, but let’s talk about how we need to respond to the residents’ criticisms and keep fishing access open.

First, if you find access restricted, call or email the business administrator or mayor to ask about the issue. You might just get a conversation started that takes care of the problem. Once told about the access issue, I have seen the towns take the lead and get the issue resolved. You can also contact me and give me accurate information including photos and any other information you have. I am willing to talk to business administrators and mayors. It has been fairly effective so far.

Second, if the problem is littering, I always ask the town three questions. Are there trash cans on site? Does the town empty the trash cans on a regular basis? Are more trash cans needed in the area? We are not the only people generating trash. Others use the area including beach goers, surfers, people eating by the water, and dog walkers. They all produce trash. So, improving trash collection can solve that problem.

Third, are there public restrooms in the area? Other beach users need restrooms too, including small children.

Fourth, the town already has ordinances for littering, public drinking, public urination and defecation, noise, and most of the other problems the residents are complaining about. What is the town doing to enforce the existing ordinances? Go after the troublemakers causing the problem instead of those of us who are simply trying to fish and maybe put food on the table. What is interesting about the public urination problem is that in many oceanfront towns there are probably more summonses issued near the local bars and night clubs (that have restrooms) than at the fishing areas. Unless the problem near the bar is totally out of control, I do not see anyone trying to prohibit drinking in the bars and clubs. Why are we treated differently?

Fifth, when an area is closed to fishing, it has an impact locally. If you are a local, you need to make sure that the elected officials know they are shutting you out. If you belong to a local fishing club, make sure the politicians know about your club. Numbers matter and not all of us are from out of town. There are also local businesses that are affected by prohibiting fishing. It is not just the local bait and tackle store who depends on us for business. There are also hotels, house rentals, restaurants, bars and more that benefit from anglers visiting the area both in-season and off-season. Ban fishing access and that revenue goes away.

Sixth, if all else fails, be prepared to file a complaint with NJDEP. You can call 877-WARNDEP (877-927-6337). Make sure you get a case number. JCAA can also contact DEP with the complaint or to follow up on your complaint if we have the case number. You can email us at publicaccess@jcaa.org.

If we win and protect or improve existing fishing access, be prepared to show it was the right decision. Participate in beach cleanups or other local projects that improve the beach for everyone. If you belong to a local fishing club, have the club show their appreciation by doing something that shows the community anglers care about the beach. Many clubs already participate in beach sweeps, run kids’ fishing clinics and more. When you participate in beach projects, make sure the locals know you are an angler, you fish that beach, and taking caring for the beach is just as important to you as it is to them.

We must not become our own worst enemy. Do not let the few people who cause the problems ruin it for us. We should not suffer loss of access because of the failings of a few people who may not even be fishing.

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